Page 15 of 17 FirstFirst ... 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 LastLast
Results 351 to 375 of 403
  1. #351
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
    Posts
    753

    Mysterious death of entire family while hiking

    ‘Tragedy of the highest order’: Investigation reports detail missteps behind hiker deaths

    Matthias Gafni
    Dec. 3, 2021
    Updated: Dec. 3, 2021 6:04 a.m.

    For two months, Mariposa County investigators looked for algae-laden water, long-lost mines that might emit toxic gas, poisonous vegetation, evidence of lightning strikes — anything that could explain how a young family and their dog mysteriously died together this summer on a remote trail near their home.

    But in the end, as detailed in 77 pages of investigative reports obtained by The Chronicle, detectives kept coming back to sizzling hot temperatures, lack of shade, rigorous terrain and a slew of disastrous choices that led to the shocking deaths of Ellen Chung, 31, and Jonathan Gerrish, 45, along with their 1-year-old daughter, Miju, and dog, Oski, after an Aug. 15 hike.

    The family, numerous experts told the detectives, appeared to catastrophically underestimate just how dangerous their trek would be with temperatures reaching 109 degrees on a steep path locals knew to avoid during the summer. Crucially, it appeared they hadn’t brought nearly enough water.

    One U.S. Forest Service volunteer who had hiked the nearly 8-mile loop more than a dozen times told a deputy the family appeared “completely unaware of the dangers.”

    The records, released to The Chronicle under California public records laws, recount a difficult investigation while offering insight into a tragedy that captivated hiking and outdoors enthusiasts around the world, with many wondering how everything could seemingly go wrong at once, leading to an entire young family and their dog dying together.

    The documents also provide new details about Chung, a yoga instructor and graduate student, and Gerrish, a Snapchat engineer, who perished after a pandemic move from San Francisco to Mariposa, where they bought numerous properties and embraced the famed Sierra foothills.

    In October, Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese closed the case, announcing that the husband and wife and their daughter died of hyperthermia and probable dehydration. They essentially got too hot, causing their brains to shut down, followed by their organs, according to one expert detectives interviewed.

    “This is an unfortunate and tragic event due to the weather,” Briese said at the time.

    The investigation laid out a harrowing timeline that began before the deadly excursion.

    The last person to see the family alive was their babysitter on Aug. 13, two days before the hike. The woman — whose name was redacted, as were all names other than Chung and Gerrish in the reports — finished cleaning the house and left that afternoon. Later that evening, she had her final communication with Chung, as the young mother texted the babysitter a video of Miju starting to walk.

    It was that weekend when, detectives say, Gerrish used an app to map out the hike. A search of Gerrish’s AllTrails history indicated he had hiked a portion of the same loop in May 2017, in weather that was likely cooler.

    The day before the hike, a friend and business associate said he received a text from Gerrish.

    “Mate!” Gerrish wrote. “Just been battling through the bush to find the property corners so much fun.”

    Gerrish had been finding the boundaries of his new properties, said the man who helped manage the family’s construction projects. The couple had bought four homes in the area, some already rented out as Airbnbs. They were protective of their young daughter, the man told detectives, and at one point asked him to make their daughter’s bedroom cooler because it was “too stuffy.”

    At about 7:45 a.m. on Aug. 15, a woman walking her dogs along a narrow dirt track, Hites Cove Road, saw the family’s grey Ford F-150 Raptor drive past and park at the trailhead.

    The temperature was 76 degrees. Within three hours it would soar to 99 degrees, and by the afternoon it would peak at 109. The ground temperature would have been higher, investigators said, particularly since the 2018 Ferguson Fire burned off any tree canopy that would have provided shade.

    Gerrish wore dark shorts, a yellow T-shirt and tennis shoes. Chung wore brown hiking boots, spandex shorts and a yellow tank top. The baby, dressed in a short-sleeved onesie and pink shoes, was strapped into a children’s backpack on Gerrish’s back.

    The dog was an Aussie-Akita mix, with its partial cold-weather breeding giving it a thick coat and making it more susceptible to heat, experts said.

    There is no indication anyone saw the family on the trail.

    The next day, at 11 a.m., the babysitter returned to the couple’s home, a few miles from the trailhead, and found it empty. The couple’s wallets and most of their cell phones were there. Even more confusing to the babysitter, the diaper bag that the couple always brought with them had been left behind.

    She called the construction manager, who was not initially concerned because Chung and Gerrish were a “very active family,” a deputy wrote. They started making calls and sending texts. By 5 p.m., they began driving around looking for the family. At 11 p.m., they called the sheriff.

    The search did not take long. After the truck was found at the trailhead on the morning of Aug. 17, crews found the bodies of Gerrish, his child and the dog about 1.6 miles below the trailhead, on a series of steep switchbacks of the Savage Lundy Trail.

    Gerrish had a cell phone in the front pocket of his shorts. But multiple crime labs have been unable to access the Google Pixel 4 to check for any failed texts or calls on the day of the hike — cell phone coverage is spotty at best along the trail — and the device is still at FBI headquarters.

    Investigators inititally called a helicopter to the area and said Chung was still missing.

    About an hour later, around 10:30 a.m., a deputy walking back up the trail from where Gerrish was found with his daughter and dog noticed “some disturbed dirt on the uphill side of the trail that appeared that something or someone had tried to go up the hill.” He spotted a shoe and then Chung’s body. She was about 13 feet in elevation higher than her family.

    At the same time, a Ford key fob was found along the trail, about 100 feet below where Gerrish was found.

    Rescuers found no signs of foul play. After spending the night at the scene with the bodies, deputies helped a CHP helicopter airlift the family off the trail. They placed the couple’s wedding rings into envelopes for safekeeping, according to the reports.

    After closing down the trail out of concern the family may have ingested poisonous fumes from an abandoned mine shaft, investigators began interviews — including with the construction manager, who called the couple “city folk,” giving an example of how Gerrish would go to the store and get firewood rather than cutting his own. No one suspected a crime.

    Deputies served a search warrant on the couple’s home the same day the bodies were recovered and found more electronic devices, including phones that had missed messages from the previous days.

    In the backpack Chung carried on the trail, investigators recovered a snake-bite kit, knife, bug spray, first aid kit, extra diapers, an empty sippy cup with remnants of what appeared to be formula, another empty sippy cup and a teething wafer wrapper.

    Chung was also carrying a 2.5 liter Osprey Hydraulics LT water bladder with only a “few remaining drops” of water, which detectives tested. They detected no toxins in the water.

    Investigators did find two different types of anatoxin-a, a neurotoxin, in the Merced River, which runs adjacent to the bottom portion of the hike. But an expert told deputies the levels were low and that a dog would have to drink multiple liters to die. The expert said that such toxins could kill dogs or livestock, but that there had been no known human deaths.

    Detectives pored over a map of old mines and pinpointed nothing nearby. They checked the bodies, and even the dog’s metal collar, for burn marks from a possible lightning strike, but struck out again.

    All the evidence kept pointing back to heat exposure and lack of water.

    Investigators spoke to a U.S. Forest Service employee familiar with the trail who said locals “stay clear” of it during summer months.

    A U.S Forest Service volunteer said that on his trips along the trail he often waited at the bottom until the sun set, to make the final steep stretch back up to the trailhead in the shade. For a hike under those conditions, he recommended 320 ounces of water for an adult couple, and 16 ounces each for a baby and dog. Yet the couple apparently carried only 84 ounces of water in total, and no water filtration system to gather supplies from the river.

    A Modesto doctor who treats extreme heat victims told investigators that once an individual gets heat stroke, they can die within a couple of hours. The moment the family started their hike — with their lack of water and other deficiencies — the “clock was ticking,” the doctor said.

    A survival trainer sent detectives an email calling the terrain, elevation and heat a “deadly trifecta.”

    He, too, concluded that heat and exertion led to their deaths.

    “Sadly, I believe they were caught off guard, and once they realized their situation, they died trying to save their child and each other,” the trainer wrote to detectives. “It is likely the child began to succumb first, which hurried the parents’ efforts up the hill. When one could no longer continue, they stayed behind to care for the child and pet, while the other tried to forge on and get help for their loved ones. It is a tragedy of the highest order.”

    Matthias Gafni is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: matthias.gafni@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @mgafni

  2. #352
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Location
    Seattle
    Posts
    23,928
    Interesting, if much more boring than all the other speculation. Didn't someone in this thread suggest that it wasn't actually that hot on the day of their hike?

  3. #353
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
    Posts
    753

    Mysterious death of entire family while hiking

    Someone also reported that they still had some water left. With the facts laid out it all makes a lot of sense/isn’t so mysterious. Especially knowing that the trail starts at the top of a steep hill that has no shade because of a fire a couple years ago.

  4. #354
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Posts
    1,788
    Quote Originally Posted by jorion View Post
    Someone also reported that they still had some water left. With the facts laid out it all makes a lot of sense/isn’t so mysterious. Especially knowing that the trail starts at the top of a steep hill that has no shade because of a fire a couple years ago.
    I think this is one of the big things that sparked a lot of confusion. The multiple early reports said that they still had water (probably just piggybacking one another) and that seemed strange given the situation.

  5. #355
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Location
    slc
    Posts
    15,168
    Quote Originally Posted by The AD View Post
    Interesting, if much more boring than all the other speculation. Didn't someone in this thread suggest that it wasn't actually that hot on the day of their hike?
    There's some dispute whether it was actually 109*, but there's no doubt it was well into the 90s. That's still plenty hot for heat stroke on an "upside-down mountain"-style hike at mid-day in August with no shade when you only have 84 oz of water for two adults and a dog.

  6. #356
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Posts
    16,363
    The razor cuts again.
    Is it radix panax notoginseng? - splat

  7. #357
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Location
    Warm parts of the St. Vrain
    Posts
    2,200

    Mysterious death of entire family while hiking

    So what are we supposed to do? Obviously check the weather and have a plan for water but say you do find yourself without water on a trail and it’s extremely hot?

    Do I stay put in whatever scant shade I can find or create, wait for the sun to go down and then move even if I’m super thirsty? Look for water? I thought it took some time before you’d actually die from dehydration vs heat stroke it seems can kill you pretty quick?

    I don’t want to second guess these people, my curiosity makes me ask … I mean they say you can go a day or more without water.. if it’s dire… whoever “they” is

    Fucking sad.


    Sent from my iPhone using TGR Forums
    If we're gonna wear uniforms, we should all wear somethin' different!

  8. #358
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Posts
    16,363
    Quote Originally Posted by Jong Lafitte View Post
    So what are we supposed to do? Obviously check the weather and have a plan for water but say you do find yourself without water on a trail and it’s extremely hot?

    Do I stay put in whatever scant shade I can find or create, wait for the sun to go down and then move even if I’m super thirsty? Look for water? I thought it took some time before you’d actually die from dehydration vs heat stroke it seems can kill you pretty quick?

    I don’t want to second guess these people, my curiosity makes me ask … I mean they say you can go a day or more without water.. if it’s dire… whoever “they” is

    Fucking sad.


    Sent from my iPhone using TGR Forums
    The whole trail is 2.6 miles down hill to a river.

    Might be just a small option there to consider. But these were city slicker idiots and they paid the price for their stupidity.

    Darwin.
    Is it radix panax notoginseng? - splat

  9. #359
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Posts
    1,679
    Actually, the rule of thumb on lack of water is three days to death (and it's not going to be any picnic for most of that duration). But it's only a rule of thumb, and obviously highly variable; heat exhaustion or heat stroke would vastly reduce survival times. And yes, based on still limited info about their location relative to other locations, going downhill to river water probably would have been a better choice than the return uphill option that they apparently pursued.

  10. #360
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Location
    Seattle
    Posts
    23,928
    Quote Originally Posted by Jong Lafitte View Post
    So what are we supposed to do? Obviously check the weather and have a plan for water but say you do find yourself without water on a trail and it’s extremely hot?
    If there's water you get in the water. Heat transfer in water is something like 25x greater than air.

  11. #361
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Posts
    16,363
    98765432

    1/ They are believed to have started walking shortly before 8 a.m. from a trailhead around 3,900 feet. At that time, the temperature is estimated to have been 74-76 degrees.

    2/ After 2.2 miles of downhill, they reached the South Fork of the Merced River. The elevation there is 1,900 feet, and the temperature was 92-99.

    3/ A flat stretch of slightly less than 2 miles along the river brought them to the bottom of the Savage-Lundy Trail. Elevation is 1,800 feet; temperature was 99-103.

    4/ The family and their dog were found dead early on the morning of Aug. 17 about 2 miles up the Savage-Lundy Trail, around 3,100 feet elevation. On Aug. 15, the temperature at that point had been 107-109 in the early afternoon.
    https://www.mercurynews.com/2021/10/...ifornia-trail/
    Is it radix panax notoginseng? - splat

  12. #362
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    valley of the heart's delight
    Posts
    1,472
    Quote Originally Posted by Jong Lafitte View Post
    So what are we supposed to do? Obviously check the weather and have a plan for water but say you do find yourself without water on a trail and it’s extremely hot?
    If there's no water, you can bury yourself and wait for a cooler part of the day. Next time you're in the desert (or the beach or volleyball pit or playground), scrape off a couple inches of sand and see how much cooler it is.

    Also, try to get help - call 911, try to text, blow a whistle 3x, yell. (sometimes 911 or text can get out even with no bars) Activate satellite rescue if you got one...

  13. #363
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Posts
    1,679
    Quote Originally Posted by bobz View Post
    ...based on still limited info about their location relative to other locations, going downhill to river water probably would have been a better choice than the return uphill option that they apparently pursued.
    Thanks to Makers, I now have location information. They were 4 miles into a 5-mile loop [edit: More like 6 miles into a 7.5 mile loop, and 2 not 1 mile above the river access. I mis-read the map markings as mileages; at least I got the elevations right], and had been along the river (1800', a mile earlier), but no longer were (found dead at 3100'), and apparently were trying to push on to where their car was (3900' and roughly a mile further). Doing steep elevation gain (and they'd just done a rather sustained ascent on a south-facing slope) definitely compounds heat effects on a body.

    That also explains why they (or at least the dog) didn't just jump into the river, as some people had wondered here previously: Because they were no longer anywhere near water, and were desperately struggling to get back to the car, putting themselves even further away from water.

    It's possible that they weren't yet particularly thirsty (but probably already entering into a hydration deficit) at the time they were at the river (having done nothing but downhill and flat up to that point), and it didn't occur to them to tank up on not necessarily clean (but probably more than safe enough) river water when they last had the opportunity. Worth mentioning that many to most people distrust Sierra stream water more than they should; a number of studies have shown that giardia and crypto concerns are rather overblown (and toxic algae talk in the immediate aftermath of this event, you don't even have to drink it!, overblown as well).

    Like I said above (as monday morning quarterback), looks like they should have aborted their uphill death march lower than they ended up and returned to the river. Cool off, drink up, and await rescue or hike those last 2 miles out in the evening. And carrying extra water, and maybe an inReach Mini never hurts.
    Last edited by bobz; 12-04-2021 at 12:02 AM.

  14. #364
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Posts
    8,451
    That poor family trusted in their idiot dad and he got them killed.

    Shame


    Sent from my iPhone using TGR Forums

  15. #365
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Posts
    16,363
    Quote Originally Posted by AK47bp View Post
    That poor family trusted in their idiot dad and he got them killed.

    Shame


    Sent from my iPhone using TGR Forums
    There comes a point in a person's life where it's life or death and your allegiances don't matter anymore. That goes for dogs too.

    The kid, that is the tragedy.

    But dying on a simple 5-6 mile hike blows my mind, I don't care if you were in the middle of the Sahara, yet alone in a forest with a river a few minutes away downhill.
    Is it radix panax notoginseng? - splat

  16. #366
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Location
    Bellevue
    Posts
    6,856
    They may have been pushing to get back to the car to get help faster for one of them/the kid? I don't know, but I've seen pretty strong people get caught by heat exhaustion and be pretty ineffective or unable to make solid choices.

  17. #367
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    Location
    The Bull City
    Posts
    7,419
    Quote Originally Posted by MakersTeleMark View Post
    There comes a point in a person's life where it's life or death and your allegiances don't matter anymore. That goes for dogs too.

    The kid, that is the tragedy.

    But dying on a simple 5-6 mile hike blows my mind, I don't care if you were in the middle of the Sahara, yet alone in a forest with a river a few minutes away downhill.
    I've cramped up on a hike.. Had to sit and rehydrate for 20 minutes... Ya, mind boggling they were so close to the solution to their crisis.. All it would take is one of them going to refill the bottle.. All of them heading to the water to cool off after rehydrating. Ya water may have been sketchy but they died without it..
    Go that way really REALLY fast. If something gets in your way, TURN!

  18. #368
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Location
    slc
    Posts
    15,168
    Quote Originally Posted by MakersTeleMark View Post
    But dying on a simple 5-6 mile hike blows my mind, I don't care if you were in the middle of the Sahara, yet alone in a forest with a river a few minutes away downhill.
    Any one of us capable of making a deadly-stupid decision. Most of us have at some point and gotten lucky. Cody Townsend's heat stroke adventure in the Mt. Whitney episode is proof of that. That was damn near fatal and he had a crew and support van.

  19. #369
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Wenatchee
    Posts
    10,814
    Quote Originally Posted by SumJongGuy View Post
    I've cramped up on a hike.. Had to sit and rehydrate for 20 minutes... Ya, mind boggling they were so close to the solution to their crisis.. All it would take is one of them going to refill the bottle.. All of them heading to the water to cool off after rehydrating. Ya water may have been sketchy but they died without it..
    I’m not sure that water would have saved them at that point. You can die from heat stroke even if you’re hydrated.


    Sent from my iPhone using TGR Forums

  20. #370
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Posts
    1,679
    Quote Originally Posted by Dantheman View Post
    Any one of us capable of making a deadly-stupid decision. Most of us have at some point and gotten lucky. Cody Townsend's heat stroke adventure in the Mt. Whitney episode is proof of that. That was damn near fatal and he had a crew and support van.
    Yeah, it doesn't take much. My heat exhaustion episode was at the end of a fun day of river rafting. Thought I was well enough hydrated while on the river (but may not have been), helped put away the boat, climbed in the back of a pickup truck with camper shell with other people and got driven around for 45 minutes, and then was startled to notice that I didn't even have the energy to stand up, let alone hike a mile with 1000' of gain.

    Quote Originally Posted by MakersTeleMark View Post
    But dying on a simple 5-6 mile hike blows my mind, I don't care if you were in the middle of the Sahara, yet alone in a forest with a river a few minutes away downhill.
    What a "mile" (or 5) means turns out to be highly situational. I do uphill runs in my nabe, and if it's hot out I'll do it anyway. No biggie. I run fivers routinely and then spend 20 minutes chatting with club buddies before I even think to have a drink of water. On the other hand, a year ago October I found myself pushing my mountain bike up a jeep road pass in Death Valley NP; wasn't even as high as 90 degrees, and I had a decent water supply sustaining me, but that last mile to the pass was endless.

  21. #371
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Posts
    6,554
    Quote Originally Posted by abraham View Post
    They may have been pushing to get back to the car to get help faster for one of them/the kid? I don't know, but I've seen pretty strong people get caught by heat exhaustion and be pretty ineffective or unable to make solid choices.
    This seems most likely. If your kid's in trouble, maybe lost consciousness, it takes a lot of certainty to trust the river to help when AC and a hospital ride is just a mile away.

  22. #372
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Location
    Where the climate suits my clothes.
    Posts
    5,212
    Quote Originally Posted by Dantheman View Post
    Any one of us capable of making a deadly-stupid decision. Most of us have at some point and gotten lucky. Cody Townsend's heat stroke adventure in the Mt. Whitney episode is proof of that. That was damn near fatal and he had a crew and support van.
    I had the same thought..

  23. #373
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    Location
    The Bull City
    Posts
    7,419
    Quote Originally Posted by MagnificentUnicorn View Post
    I’m not sure that water would have saved them at that point. You can die from heat stroke even if you’re hydrated.


    Sent from my iPhone using TGR Forums
    You get IN the water to cool the body down..
    Go that way really REALLY fast. If something gets in your way, TURN!

  24. #374
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Posts
    1,679
    Quote Originally Posted by jono View Post
    This seems most likely. If your kid's in trouble, maybe lost consciousness, it takes a lot of certainty to trust the river to help when AC and a hospital ride is just a mile away.
    Yup, that, and the sunk cost fallacy; they'd already invested 1300' of gain into the get-back-to-car plan.

  25. #375
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    Location
    The Bull City
    Posts
    7,419
    Quote Originally Posted by bobz View Post
    Yup, that, and the sunk cost fallacy; they'd already invested 1300' of gain into the get-back-to-car plan.
    Yep I can totally see this side of it... Both adults have to have gone totally immobile at the same time.. Seems weird but that has to be why one didn't go get water/go to car and make a call for help..
    Go that way really REALLY fast. If something gets in your way, TURN!

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •